At this time of year, tomatoes, pears, apples, and cantaloupe are harvested fairly regularly, and no matter how hard a person tries, those pesky fruit flies seem to abound around ripe fruit.
A few years ago I read that putting a few sprigs of rosemary on a compost pile would help control flies. My wife decided to put a sprig of rosemary in the fruit bowl and presto, no fruit flies. So now, wherever we have tomatoes or other fruits, we lay a cutting of rosemary on them. Now rosemary is a regular in the herb garden. What a difference it made.
Rosemary is not only good for keeping pesky little fruit flies away, it can also improve memory. It turns out that rosemary oil contains compounds that may be responsible for changes in memory performance. One of them is called 1,8-cineole – in addition to smelling wonderful (if you’re into that sort of thing), it can act in the same way as drugs licensed to treat dementia, causing an increase of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.
These compounds do this by preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter by an enzyme. And it’s very plausible – inhalation is one of the best ways to get drugs into the brain. When you eat a drug, it can be broken down in the liver which processes whatever is absorbed by the gut. When inhaled, small molecules can pass through the bloodstream and into the brain without being broken down by the liver. So be sure to crush some of the twigs you have to get the aromatherapy benefits.
Growing rosemary from seed can be tough – I know that from experience. Rosemary seeds are quite difficult to germinate and seedlings are slow to grow at first. Growing weed from seed is a time consuming process. And of course, it’s a little late to buy a plant this year, so that might be something to plan for next year.
Another option, if you can find someone with a plant that is willing to give you a boost, cut a cutting 3 inches from the tip of a stem, pull the leaves 1 inch from the base, apply the rooting hormone on the exposed part of the stem and put it in the potting soil. The roots will appear in a few weeks. Transfer to a larger pot or directly to your garden (next spring).
If you want to grow your own, here are some tips. First of all, although rosemary is a perennial in warmer climates, it’s mostly grown as an annual here in central Missouri, but I was able, with extra care, to get a plant through the winter . That being said, it’s probably more appropriate to grow it in a pot in our area so it can be brought indoors during the winter months.
Some varieties of rosemary can grow 5 to 6 feet tall, so if you are growing rosemary in pots, “Blue Boy” is a small bush rosemary with proportionately small leaves that grow in clusters. ‘Golden Rain’ is another strain that stays compact and short.
Rosemary will need 6-8 hours of sunlight per day, so a south-facing window would be a great place to grow it indoors.
Water the rosemary plants when the soil is completely dry. Be careful not to overwater or oversoak the soil (especially when growing in containers) as this will lead to root rot. Next spring, you can transfer your plant directly to the garden or place it outside as a potted plant.
I hope you will include rosemary in your garden plan for next year and join in the “battle of the fruit flies”. Oh, I almost forgot to mention – rosemary is also good for cooking.
Peter Sutter is a lifelong gardening enthusiast and a participant in MU Extension’s Callaway County Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]